Epilepsy Health

Facts and Myths About Epilepsy

A Sampling from Chapter 2

Epilepsy Facts

There are over 2½ million people in the United States diagnosed with epilepsy.
Epilepsy affects more people than cerebral palsy, cancer, tuberculosis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis combined.
Epilepsy can occur at any time in life, and for many people the cause is unknown.
In epilepsy some brain cells discharge when they aren't supposed to, but the important question is why this some happens.

Some of the things which cause an individual to have a low seizure threshold (be more likely to have seizures than the average person) are:

  • Acquired congenital and hereditary diseases
  • Birth or pre-birth trauma (injuries)
  • Abnormal metabolism
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Allergies
  • Poisoning (lead is the most common)
  • Brain tumors (less than 10-15%)
  • Central nervous system infections, such as meningitis and encephalitis
  • Scar formation in the brain from head injury or surgery
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease, alteration in blood sugar, vitamin deficiencies

The leading cause of epilepsy for adults is automobile accidents. The leading cause for children is birth trauma. The leading cause for those over 65 is strokes.

Famous people with epilepsy include Julius Caesar, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Tchaikovsky, Van Gogh, Dostoyevski, Dickens, Dante, da Vinci, Mozart and Alfred Nobel.

Epilepsy Myths

There are many ancient myths about epilepsy, and some of those superstitions still remain. At various times, people with epilepsy were shunned, locked up in mental institutions or forbidden to marry or have children.

Seizures were thought to be caused by witchcraft, insanity, possession by demons, feeblemindedness, even masturbation.

Seizure Emergency Checklist

  1. Do not restrain - it can make the seizure more severe.
  2. Stay nearby.
  3. Speak kindly.
  4. If the person is moving around, remove dangerous, sharp or hot objects from the area.
  5. Stand behind the person and gently guide him or her away from danger.
  6. If the person shakes or falls, turn the head or whole body to the side so that saliva can drain from the mouth.
  7. Force nothing between the teeth. The outdated practice of putting an object in the mouth to prevent the person from swallowing the tongue is not appropriate. The tongue cannot be swallowed. A hard object can increase damage to the tongue from biting, and a soft object can become lodged in the throat, causing suffocation.
  8. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call an ambulance.
  9. When the seizure is over, let the person rest.
"The anger and frustration that epilepsy can engender may be overcome by learning the facts, working through problems, raising self-esteem and achieving self-regulation.

These are the important issues tackled by Sally Fletcher in her helpful book."

- M. Fischer-Williams
MD, FRCP, Neurologist